Wunderkinds 2013: John Vincent Monaco, 24
Graduate Student, Pace University
Right now, if you were on your computer, it would "know" that somebody was there. It would be able to tell that somebody was typing a sentence or downloading a song from iTunes, but it would not really know your exact identity. And if somebody new came along and sat in your spot, it couldn’t really tell that anything had changed. John Vincent Monaco, a 24-year-old researcher and master’s student concentrating in Biometrics at Pace University, is trying to change that.
When Monaco was an undergraduate studying math and computer science at Pace, he was one of 18 students nationwide to be part of the prestigious Information Assurance Scholarship Program run by the Department of Defense to concentrate his studies on biometrics—aka using computers to identify humans. The department was so impressed with his work that it’s paying for him to continue his education on a graduate level, which is set to be completed by May 2014, and has guaranteed him employment when he has completed his studies. That means that Monaco, who now lives in Somers, gets to focus on the DOD priority he’s interested in: making computers aware of their users’ true identity.
Monaco’s research focuses on creating software that uses “non-intrusive measurements like keyboards, typing patterns, or past movements,” to determine a user’s identit.
The applications for this research for the Department of Defense are pretty straightforward. If computers could really “know” who is using them, they could detect if someone was breaking into a computer and compromising the security of the system. But Monaco believes his research can serve many other purposes as well. For example, testing agencies can determine the true identity of the test taker and prevent cheating. And computer companies can cater their technology to their specific clients. If, for instance, a child is using the computer, the system can remove some of the more complex features. Of if the user is hearing impaired, it can automatically turn on audio features.
Monaco is thrilled to see his research moving to the next level. His team, comprised of mostly doctoral students and professors who are “twice my age,” already has about 25 undergraduate students who are testing his ideas as he is developing them. “I’m on the front lines of what’s happening,” he says. “It’s very exciting to a computer math nerd like me!”